Friday July 16
Start the day on Quadra Island, where we had stayed in a very cozy bed and breakfast the night before. Meet up with the guides from Spirit of the West Adventures and other paddlers and drive a couple hours north to Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island to start the kayak trip.
Kathy and I meet the group: UK Sue is here for her 7th kayak trip and scifi conventions. OZ Peter is on an extended trip across north america, OZ Di is on a shorter vacation, Manitoba Robin is on her first ever camping trip, Sara from Namibia is in Canada for a conference, Sondre and Hannie are on their honeymoon trip from The Netherlands, and Anne, from Germany, is working the summer with the kayak guide company, Spirit of the West. Our guides are Luke and Ally.
After the boats are unloaded from the trailer and our gear is heaped in a pile, we have some time in Telegraph Cove and visit the small but fascinating whale skeleton museum, learning about the sad history of whaling on the west coast. Fin whales were essentially exterminated around the island between 1940 and 1967. Also learned how marine mammals dive as deep and long as they do, with 90% efficiency of lung O2 and CO2 transfer, by slowing down their heart rate and by having 2-3 times the blood to body mass ratio of land mammals. Learn about marine mammal evolution, from sea offers, to sea lions and seals, which have pelvises and legs, to dolphins which may or may not have vestigial pelvic bones.
After the museum tour, Bruce from Paddlers Inn arrives in his boat to take the gang to his floating inn, about 2.5 hours north east. Great views of Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park as we cruise, but no photos because of the spray coming off the small boat. Countless islands with occasional small habitations and marinas, but mostly uninhabited – a beautiful place!
Arrive at Bruce’s Paddlers Inn – two buildings floating on a log structure nestled in a stunning little cove. Water from a lake and propane from a regular service providing residents with gas and other goods.
Dinner is lasagna in the large kitchen area of the main (floating) building. After dinner we go for an evening paddle around the island – beautiful calm water and evening light, and easy access to the boats from the dock means everybody stays dry. First sighting of a couple seals in the bay gets everybody very excited. Very cute when they stick their furry heads and big brown eyes up to watch you, then disappear into the water by tilting their head back and exhaling with a snort.
Saturday, first day on the water
Quick 10-minute paddle to Echo Bay to visit remnants of town and meet Billy Proctor, who has lived all of his 80 years there. Fantastic huge boat house that he built, “junk collection” of washed up debris collected over the years, including whiskey bottles from the 1890s and Japanese glass float globes, one the size of a basketball. Machine shop including casting. Logger, fisher and home steader, now environmental activist.
After lunch we paddle to our first camp, on Insect island, on “midden” – mounds of shell fish debris from 1000s of years of native use of this site. The beach is white with shells and the forest is layered 5-10m deep of shells and moss. Place has a magical feel to it – spirits is all I can say.
As we setup camp, we notice that the trees on the island are often growing together in clumps of 5-10 individual trees. Very unusual forest, I don’t have an explanation.
Dinner starts with shrimps on the shore. It’s Sara’s birthday today, and Luke and Ally have prepared a celebration. One the the joys of sea kayaking is the amount of weight – meaning good food and drink – that you can carry. The guides call these “float and bloat” trips and we are starting to learn why as we dive into dessert after dinner and appetizers!
The evening sunset is beautiful, and the relaxing pace of this trip is starting to sink in. First sighting of porpoises in the bay, and everybody squeals with excitement. The blow of a breath is heard, and if you are quick you can spot the back and fin arching gracefully out of the water.
Thin morning fog, and more porpoise sightings. They are easier to spot in the calm morning water, as they breath and break the glassy surface. After a quick breakfast we are packed and on the water by 9:30. More seals and porpoises as we paddle into the calm water. Paddling through calm channels between islands in so peaceful and beautiful. The calmness ends as we cross Arrow Passage, and gets exciting as we get into bigger waters and the swells and waves get to 1-1.5m. After 30 minutes to cross, reaching the calm waters behind an island at the end of the crossing was a welcome relief. 2nd crossing was Retreat Passage, almost twice as wide. Paddling mostly parallel to waves of 1.5m was exciting fun as the boat rocked side to side. Some waves broke over boat and saturated the spray skirt.
We make camp on Owl Island in a narrow strip of forest between two bays. The north bay has a rocky beach and a high point to the west, and the south bay is narrow and covered in driftwood.
Despite the relaxing pace of this trip, we realize that this is difficult terrain to travel through. The number of good boat landings and campsites are few, and a typical shoreline is thick forest and then steep, slippery rock dropping straight into the ocean, impossible to land a boat on.
Most islands do not have any fresh water, so we carry all the water we need with us in large bladders in the bottom of the boats. It feels strange to be surrounded by water, and wet most of every day, but to need to carry your own drinking and cooking water.
Wake up before 6 to the sound of rain and go bring in some clothes left out overnight to dry, whoops! Beautiful calm foggy morning with glassy smooth water in the bay. Luke says he heard the blow from a humpback passing by the bay in the early morning.
Breakfast of French toast with real Maple syrup is a hit; OZ Pete’s first taste! Get out on the water early and push from Owl island around west coast of Swansen island. First Minke whale sighting! At first look they appear to be a large porpoise. They sometimes take 2-3 breaths at the surface before diving and then remaining under water for many minutes. We take a quick break before crossing Blackfish sound, but the weather is good – calm water and winds, and so we push to cross the sound to Hanson island before lunch.
Lunch in a square bay (above “I” on map), where we land on large mud flat full of bright green sea lettuce. Kathy and I try the lettuce – tastes like green salt, with a chewy texture, not bad I suppose. The beach was very cold and windy, folks were looking for shelter in the forest as we have lunch. Must wear more clothes tomorrow!
After a quick lunch we paddle around the west side of Hanson island to campsite.
In Plumper islands, there are a couple of whale watching boats and word of a humpback on the radio. We wait near shore… a couple porpoises and then a large blow in the distance and the huge arching back of a humpback whale breaks the surface! Another blow then we see a higher arch and the fin, which means that the whale is diving; don’t see it again. This whale is known as “Freckles” by the watchers.
As we head towards tonights camp at Hanson Island, we paddle through and around numerous kelp forests, which appear on the surface to be thick floating mats of rubbery, hollow tubes and bulbs. Underneath that bulbous surface is a genuine forest, rich with a variety of life, and reaching down to the ocean floor.
We’ve made very good speed on this trip so far, and have arrived at Hanson Island a day early, so we will be staying here for two nights. Surprising speed considering how completely relaxed the trip has been!
What happens at every new camp is to first unload all of our gear and food from the boats – they are too heavy to carry when fully loaded – and then pull the boats up the shore, well above high-tide, and secure them to trees. After the boats are secure we setup our tents and unpack while our genial guides Luke and Ally prepare dinner. The relaxation sinks deeper in. Kathy and I are very used to self-supported camping from numerous backpacking trips, but for Robin this is her first camping trip – a fantastic introduction to the joys of living outdoors.
Tuesday, Hanson Island
K and I were the the last ones out of the tent this morning when at 9:30 a pod of Orcas swam by outside the bay during breakfast and everybody was hollering and squealing!
After breakfast we paddled south along Hanson island, following the coastline. The weather pattern is foggy and calm in the morning, clearing out during the day, which makes for very peaceful mornings and warm afternoons. On this morning’s paddle we see two Minke whales, several porpoises and brilliant purple sea stars.
Lunch is at another campsite to the south of our two-night ‘basecamp’ on Hanson Island. Great lunch spot with bench seating and amazing views across the strait to Vancouver Island.
Sondre has been fishing every opportunity and today he is fishing from the boat and catches one. The landing of the fish turns very exciting, as he is reeling it in a bald eagle spots the fish from it’s perch high up on a tree. The eagle sweeps in fast towards us, then at the last second aborts the dive and turns back to shore, perhaps spooked by the nearby boats. Good thing too, because it would have been a mess if the eagle had grabbed the fish that was also hooked on Sondre’s fishing line.
Our flotilla consists of smaller single-person boats and larger two-person tandem boats. The smaller boats are more maneuverable and of course provide more freedom to set your own pace and go and explore little nooks along the shore.
The tandem boats carry all of our common gear – the kitchen and food – and are heavy but being longer and having two paddlers are faster in a straight line. Every day we swap boats around, so that everybody has a chance to paddle the singles and tandems. Most people prefer the single boats, but I find the tandems to be better for photography, so that my boat-partner can keep the boat oriented and stable while I’m monkeying around with the camera.
As we paddle around the north end of Hanson Island, we get a view to the east, where the large peak of the Coast Mountain Range are covered in snow.
On return, sun was out, wind was gone and water was incredible glassy smooth – most beautiful conditions on the trip! Swing around smaller island on the west side of Hanson. Nobody wants go go back to camp and we all dawdle in the water as long as possible, enjoying the absolute beauty and stillness of the afternoon.
Once onshore, it’s a treat to arrive dry and warm. Everybody lies out on the beach suntanning and then wandering about exploring the shore; a stunning last day of paddling! Dinner is stir fry with cheesecake dessert – the float and bloat continues.
Pete the fireman builds a fire pit at the high tide line and waits for nightfall. A giant cruiseship sails south and seems out of place after so many days of mostly wilderness.
Another beautiful evening on the beach as we work on finishing the wine. Getting up early in the morning for a quick paddle before breakfast means we don’t stay up too late.
Up at 6:30; bleary but keen for a last morning paddle. We set off down the south-east coast of Hanson to another camp where we lunch. Star fish on the shore line, but you need to paddle within a couple meters of the rocks to see them. Fun doing that navigation, in and out of the kelp and dodging the rocks. Have the single in the morning, and in the e afternoon double up with Sue.
Then it’s back to camp to pack up and wait for the ferry to pick us up and take the gang back to Telegraph Cove. Sad to leave such a beautiful place!
Thanks everyone, especially Luke and Ally at Spirit of the West for making this such an enjoyable trip!
Darren Foltinek, darren (at) frontrange.ca